Should ads for unpaid internships be banned?

ONE ADVERTISER SEES SENSE – BUT WILL OTHERS FOLLOW SUIT?

An outrageous advertisement for an unpaid internship – which sparked a Twitter frenzy earlier this week – has been removed from a small job listings website, following an investigation by Graduate Fog.

However, it has emerged that the original ad was in fact placed on the much bigger, well-respected journalism and PR industry website Gorkana, where it is still live.

****NEWSFLASH – WEDNESDAY 4.45PM: NOW TESCO IS AT IT TOO! SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW****

Did you missed all the drama?

On Monday an ad for freelance journalist Tiffany Wright was spotted and widely re-tweeted.

It was deemed by many to be an extreme example of the shameless and sickening exploitation which has become commonplace within journalism.

It read:

“Real life/women’s magazines intern wanted

Freelance journalist Tiffany Wright is looking for an enthusiastic and motivated intern to assist with finding real life stories for magazines such as Now, More, Cosmo, Fabulous etc. The position in based in central London and you must be able to commit for at least 6 weeks, ideally starting as soon as possible.

Tasks:

Coming up with features ideas for women’s magazines

scouring newspapers and onlinefor great potential real life features and then chasing these stories

Liaising with case studies and interviewing

Contacting Prs/charities/television contacts in order to secure exclusive real life stories

Writing teasers to send out to magazines

Networking (this includes going to functions, parties etc)

General admin duties

Experience required:

The confidence to find and chase new real life stories.

An ability to come up with unique, topical feature ideas for the top women’s magazines

– Preferably a background academically in journalism or experience in editorial roles elsewhere.

You need to have a hunger for writing for women’s magazines, particularly in the Real Life sector. We also need you to be highly organised, motivated and determined –  for you, no real life story will be too hard to find.

This position will give you valuable experience and contacts for working within women’s magazine. You will leave this role having learnt how to chase and secure the most exclusive story, as well as understanding how to sell features to magazines. This is a great position for anyone wanting to have a career as a freelance journalist or make their first move into top women’s magazines

Previous experience within the Real life sector is preferred but not essential.

Please send us an updated CV and a covering letter explaining why you’d be perfect for this role to Tiffany Wright at tiffanylwright@hotmail.com

This is initially an unpaid position although for the right candidate there is the definite potential for a permanent role.”

The reaction on Twitter was one of unanimous disgust.

A message by @MissCay read: ‘Call yourself a Journalist? Not if you wish to hire an unpaid intern to DO YOUR JOB FOR YOU’.

The blogger Sianyland angrily warned Tiffany ‘That’s not an internship. It’s you being lazy’ and TheGreatWen was inspired to pen the spoof ‘Do you have what it takes to be my slave?’

Graduate Fog shares the view that it is outrageous to shamelessly ‘recruit’ for a young, unpaid worker in this way.

(I should also mention at this point that I have actually come across Tiffany before, when we worked together at Eve magazine for three months, in 2006/7. I dropped her a line on Monday asking her to comment – but I have not yet had a response.)

However, I’m also interested in the mechanics – and legalities – of advertising this sort of post.

When I wrote Dude? the National Council for Work Experience told me that advertising unpaid work was legally dubious – as it could be seen to be assisting employers to undermine the national minimum wage laws. (Does anybody know if this is still the case?)

And, setting the law to one side for a second, presumably advertisers read the text before they put it live? Do they feel any ethical responsibility for publishing ads like these?

Should we be pushing for a ban on advertising ‘opportunities’ which are blatantly exploitative?

I contacted EditorialJobs.co.uk – the small jobs board that the re-tweeted link led to.

Sean, the chap who runs the site as a one-man-band, said he had spotted a spike in visits to his site on Monday, but didn’t know why this had happened. He thanked me for getting in touch to fill him in. He insisted he had not earned a penny from running Tiffany’s ad as he doesn’t charge for ads for internships.

He also explained that he only copies ads from bigger sites.

That’s right.

Although the link in the many retweets had led to EditorialJobs.co.uk, Sean said he had seen the original ad on the well-known and much-respected journalism and PR industry website Gorkana.

Sure enough, when I visited the site, searched ‘Tiffany’ under ‘Journo jobs’, the ad appeared.

I contacted Gorkana to clarify their policy on advertising unpaid internships.

Their emailed statement – from a spokesperson – read:

“Gorkana is very sensitive to the debate about internships in the media.

“We have sympathy with concerns that bad practice in this field can be exploitative, but are anxious that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater as many journalists have benefited from the experience it can offer and the opportunities for career progression that can emerge.

“As such we encourage all our advertisers to be explicit in the terms they offer, open minded to the candidates they seek and will question the appropriateness of any roles longer than three months.

“We have also been monitoring the number of intern positions we post on this site.  Overall, the number of intern roles we have advertised is down 30% this year, whilst the number of full-time editorial vacancies has increased dramatically, a positive step for the media sector.”

Will they be removing Tiffany’s ad? I’m not sure.

When we talked on the phone, the ‘spokesperson’ (who has since asked not to be named)  mentioned that Gorkana would be in touch with Tiffany and might make revisions to her advertisement but would be unlikely to remove it. When I suggested he consult with Internocracy over Gorkana’s existing policy on advertising unpaid positions, he said he would consider it.

However, the written statement he later emailed (above) made no mention of any of this. When I asked again about Tiffany’s ad and Gorkana’s plans to review their policy, he declined to comment further.

He said he could provide “no official comment on any specific ad” and that “Overall our policy on internships is under constant review, but we think the current policy is appropriate.”

Graduate Fog is pleased to see that EditorialJobs.co.uk has now removed Tiffany’s ad.

But has Gorkana done enough to prove that it takes the plight of unpaid interns seriously?

I still have serious questions about the role of Gorkana – and companies like theirs – in providing a service that allows the corrosive unpaid internships culture to flourish.

TESCO FOOTNOTE:

Since this post went live at lunchtime (on Wednesday 7th July), Graduate Fog has learned that the latest example of this shameless recruiting of unpaid labour comes from supermarket giant Tesco.

The ad – placed by Cedar – the ‘contract publisher’ that puts together their magazine – appears on another established industry website, Journalism.co.uk.

Apparently, “The role will include providing administrative and organisational support for the editorial desk, along with the chance to learn and develop basic journalism skills including researching, fact checking and writing news and feature content.”

However – yes, you guessed it – “The role is not salaried, but we will pay basic expenses and provide a genuine opportunity to learn key skills.”

Has the world gone mad??

*Should Gorkana do more to show it cares about interns?
Or do you hold journalists and editors solely responsible for the spread of unpaid internships? Is confronting the advertisers simply shooting the messenger?

*Are you shocked that Tesco have advertised an unpaid internship so brazenly?
Please share your thoughts below!

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